In February of 2019, Nina Fuller, Founder and Director of SMILE on Down Syndrome in Evansville, IN, attended the Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action conference in St. Louis, MO. Upon walking out of her final workshop of the day, she found herself inspired, ready to learn, and grow herself and her organization more. What she did not realize at that moment is that all she needed was something salty, something sweet, something healthy, and something to drink.
At the DSAIA Conference, Fuller had been introduced to the concept of a Pop Up Snack Shop, where people with disabilities sell prepared snack boxes. (This is a program started at Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis.) As she munched away on her snacks, she dreamed of how this program could benefit her members. Fuller realized that as teens and young adults in Indiana transitioned from high school into adulthood, they needed real-life opportunities to develop social, interpersonal, and job-related skills; they needed safe ways to step outside of their comfort zone to grow. She brought the Pop Up Snack Shop concept back to her organization and they immediately went into action. Within a few months, Fullers’ self-advocate program was assembling their SMILE Snack Packs, sealed with their SMILE logo. From there, they took their idea to the public selling to a wide variety of vendors, each box for a suggested $5 donation. On their first day, a six-hour event, they sold all but 13 of the 30 SMILE Snack Packs in the first three hours.
Fuller notes that while the SMILE Snack Packs program has had many successes, it has not come without its fair share of learning, too. This included an event where only three self-advocates were available, requiring some to work “overtime” and fill in gaps. Also, self-advocates are expected to sell and market the SMILE Snack Packs. Some are naturals at this, while others struggle to even get out a “thank you” to a customer. As time passes, Fuller notes the confidence of each self-advocate is growing. Getting SMILE Snack Packs off the ground has required a lot of teamwork, self-reflection, and dedicated employees to get the job done, but it’s been a rewarding opportunity for all.
The community response has been overwhelming. People have been excited about the idea of SMILE Snack Packs and often stop to ask questions and learn what SMILE on Down Syndrome is all about. Fuller states, “I love watching our self-advocates interact with total strangers, making eye contact, being the first to reach a hand out to connect, and most of all, showing everyone that people with Down syndrome are hard workers, confident, relational, and downright delightful.” The program hopes to increase the number of regular vendors over the next year so that SMILE on Down Syndrome can help more individuals with Down syndrome grow and have an even larger impact on the community. Regardless of where SMILE on Down Syndrome pops up next with their SMILE Snack Packs, you can be sure to find a warm, friendly face and something salty, something sweet, something healthy, and something to drink.